Saturday, 20 April 2019

Stonehenge World Heritage Site Under Threat

I went to Stonehenge many years ago, on a coach trip, when access to the stones was via a grim little underpass from a bleak car park. The stones themselves were great (though I preferred Avebury, where you could wander around the stones, and which we visited on the same trip).
When I go back to Stonehenge, as I intend to do one of these days, I want to see the new visitor centre, and I want to see the stones as part of the amazing landscape that I've learned about over the last few years. It's far more than just Stonehenge - the archaeology extends over the whole Plain, linking many different sites, and it's a unique picture of prehistoric communities coming together in a place that was special to them.

And, of course, the government wants to put a road through it.

There's a road there already, of course, the A303 - originally built when nobody was terribly interested in archaeology and what it could tell us about the past.
The plan is to widen the A303, and put a 2.9km tunnel under the Stonehenge area. This will not just be a tunnel - it'll be the slope down to it at both ends, and it's planned to be a four-lane Expressway with deep cuttings and junctions.
It will cause great damage to the surroundings of Stonehenge, and the site will probably lose its World Heritage status.

There's been a campaign to stop this from happening for some time now, but it's important to keep reminding the powers that be that the road scheme is opposed.
There is a website at
They also have a Facebook page and are on Twitter at @savestonehenge

The Stonehenge Alliance is supported by Ancient Sacred Landscape Network (ASLaN) (you can see they chose the name just to get that acronym!), Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth and RESCUE: the British Archaeological Trust.

As a former archaeologist, I really have to support this campaign, or I'd have to hand in my trowel!

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Doreen Valiente's Witchcraft for Tomorrow

A friend lent me a copy of Witchcraft for Tomorrow by Doreen Valiente, one of the founders of modern Wicca.
I'd been aware of her name and her importance in the history of paganism in this country, but I'd never got round to reading anything she'd written before.
To start with, I was surprised to find she'd written the book in 1978 - I may have been mixing her up with Dion Fortune, but I thought her work was earlier than the 1970s. And in 1978 I was starting to do some research to find my own spiritual path - I would have lapped this book up if I'd found it then. Now I'm looking at it more as a historical text, since the tradition has evolved over the years.

Doreen Valiente knew Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca (who wrote a book called Witchcraft Today in the 1950s) - she calls him "old Gerald" throughout the book, and talks about the Museum of Witchcraft where he was the resident witch when it was on the Isle of Man.
It's quite a comprehensive beginners' guide to Wicca, talking about the eight festivals of the year, how to find a coven, and various rituals and how to perform them. I did like her sense of humour about the new books about witchcraft that were starting to come on the market at that time, supposedly written by people whose family had been witches for generations, and they'd learned the ancient rituals at the knee of their old granny - and Doreen took one look at the words of the ritual, and thought "I wrote that!"

She does throw all sorts of things into the pot when it comes to historical influences on Wicca, though, and some of them have been debunked since she was writing. She thought highly of Margaret Murray, for instance, and repeated the story of the Templars worshipping the demon Baphomet.
She talks about the Age of Aquarius, and Atlantis, and Aleister Crowley and the Order of the Golden Dawn. Then there's "Old George" Pickingill, a Victorian witch and teacher of witches, supposedly founding nine covens across the country. There's also a section about Tantric sex, so they were borrowing practices from all sorts of different traditions. There's even some archaeology.

The descriptions of the rituals are refreshingly down to earth. For instance, for candle-lit rituals she stresses the importance of placing the candles where they won't set fire to billowing robes (if the participants are not working sky-clad), and gives different options for where they should be placed "as long as there is sufficient light". In rituals where wine is drunk, she says it should be whichever wine the participants prefer.
At the end of the book is Doreen's own Book of Shadows, based on older material - she was also the owner of Gerald Gardner's own Book of Shadows.

Monday, 8 April 2019

When Three African Kings Met Queen Victoria

I came across a fascinating book in the Victorian History section of the shop where I work, about a little known State visit to Queen Victoria.
The book is King Khama, Emperor Joe and the Great White Queen, by Neil Parsons.

In Southern Africa, Cecil Rhodes was increasing the territory under the control of his British South Africa Company.
In the 1880s and 90s, he was looking at the territories ruled by three dikgosi - kings or chiefs - in what was then known as Bechuanaland.
Dikgosi Khama III had worked closely with the British military during his reign - he ruled the Bamangwato people.
Dikgosi Bathoen ruled over the neighbouring Ngwaketse people, and Dikgosi Sebele I ruled over the Kwena people.
Together they agreed that they didn't want to be ruled by Cecil Rhodes - so in 1895 they decided to visit the Queen of England and put their case to her.
They were supported in this by the British army and local missionaries.
At first they were denied an audience, so they went on a tour of the British Isles to put their case to the British public. They gave speeches in chapels and at town meetings and gave interviews to newspapers, through interpreters, though Sebele and Bathoen spoke Dutch/Africaans as well as their own language of Setswana. There were even ballads written about them.
Eventually, they did meet with Queen Victoria privately. The result of the meeting was that their lands were put under the direct rule of the Crown, rather than the British South Africa Company, under the Chamberlain Settlement (Joseph Chamberlain was Secretary of State for the Colonies).
This agreement eventually led to the independence of the country of Botswana in 1966, and in 2005 a monument was put up to them in the capital of Botswana, Gaborone.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Vonda McIntyre has Died

I'd already read Dreamsnake by the time The Wrath of Khan came out, so I knew Vonda McIntyre was a good SF author. She won a Hugo award for Dreamsnake, only the third woman ever to win a Hugo for best novel. She wrote original Star Trek novels as well as film novelisations, and gave Sulu and Uhura their first names, which became canon - Hikaru and Nyota. I think I bought them all.
So her name is inextricably linked with my period of greatest Star Trek fandom, which I remember with great fondness, and I was sorry to hear that she was ill, a little while ago.
It seems that several writers I follow on Twitter remember her with fondness, too, and they have been relating what a welcoming figure she was when they were starting out, or when they met at Conventions, and she was also the "fairy godmother" of people who had attended the Clarion West writing workshops.